Friday, 26 September 2008

View from the Pew - Climate Change

View from the Pew is a series of articles I am writing for Newslink, the Diocesan magazine for the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. This is the first one, which appeared in the September 2008 issue.

What a summer: the rain incessant and the sky so grey and dismal! The garden is a mess: the potatoes are rotting in waterlogged soil, the tomatoes won’t ripen, and the flowers are drenched and battered. But these concerns are trivial compared with the trouble the weather is causing others. Think of all those poor souls whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed in the recent floods, particularly those in Newcastle West. Think of the farmers with crops to harvest whose year’s work looks at this moment likely to be for nothing. May the Lord strengthen them to overcome their losses, and may He show us what we can do to help them.

We have had a very wet summer and early autumn, the second in a row. I looked at the records from Met √Čireann’s Birr weather station, the nearest to me. They show that July rainfall was more than one and a half times average, and by the 19th, August rainfall was more than twice the average for the whole month!

All this got me thinking about our changing climate. Should we blame the bad weather on global warming? I looked at the report by Met √Čireann and UCD entitled Ireland in a Warmer World. It says:
Autumn and winter seasons will become wetter: increases in the range 15-25% towards the end of the century. Summers will become drier: 10-18% decrease towards the end of the century. Regional details remain elusive, due to the large uncertainty in local projections.

Summers drier? Well not this year anyhow! But we must be careful not to confuse climate with weather. Climate is a long term, statistical notion. We have had wet summer weather before, and two wet ones in a row is not particularly unusual – perhaps just unlucky!

But we should see the bad weather as a wake-up call, I think – a message from God that we interfere with His world at our peril. Global warming is a fact, say the scientists. Average temperatures are rising; the polar ice caps are melting; carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for at least 30 million years. A few dispute the extent to which this is due to human activity, such as burning coal and oil, and cutting down the forests. But there is a wide scientific consensus that we humans are the cause, as reported by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change. And this stands to reason: in the last 150 years we have burned 500 thousand million tons of carbon; the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is just half of that; and the well understood greenhouse effect explains the rising temperatures. I am convinced. Unless we change our ways as a species, there will be big, and probably very nasty, consequences for our children and grandchildren.

So how should we respond to this as Christians?

Surely not by withdrawing into an inner world of the spirit, as God’s world suffers about us. He has made us in his image, given us a glorious Garden of Eden, and placed us in it, to till and keep it. The damage we have been doing to the world is due to our sinful natures, our greed and selfishness, but Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Our task, surely, is to repent of our sins and work to save His creation.

I was pleased therefore to see that the bishops gathered for the Lambeth conference addressed the global warming issue. Chris Rapley, a former director of the British Antarctic Survey, now head of the Science Museum in London, and an eminent scientist who was my neighbour years ago but with whom I have lost touch, gave a keynote address which received a lot of attention. And the ‘Reflections’ document summarising the Indaba discussions has this to say:

If we say that “The earth is the Lord’s…”, we must be prepared to live as if that is true! We can not misuse a gift from the Lord. If we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be prepared for radical discipleship by “living simply, so that others may simply live.” Safeguarding creation is a spiritual issue. Climate change is posing questions freshly for us about our attitudes toward creation, technology, sustainability for a future, and justice for all people. This is a discipleship issue not something we might possibly do. When others see that we Anglicans take the issue of environment seriously, they may be drawn to work alongside us, and in so doing they may see the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed in action.
That is what the bishops say, and please God they will give us the leadership we need, but what are we ordinary folk in the pews to do to live up to this vision?

I don’t know the answers, but I feel sure we should talk about it more in our diocese, in the pages of Newslink, in our diocesan committees, and in our parishes. Here are a few thoughts:
  • We must as individual Christians, as disciples, walk more lightly on God’s earth. We in the rich world do not need to keep up with the Joneses by consuming more and more, and driving ever bigger vehicles. We must relearn the old spiritual values of living simply. It is a holy thing to live simply, as our Lord did, and we should rejoice in imitating Him!

  • We must take every opportunity to pray for the natural word, for the web of life of which we are part, and for those who make decisions on how to respond to climate change. We should add them to the prayers the prayer book enjoins us to pray in our public intercessions. God does not need our payers of course, for He knows our needs, but we need them, to remind us constantly of what is important!

  • As parishes we must consciously strive to run our affairs to reduce our carbon footprint, and protect our environment. My own parish for instance has carried out an energy audit to see how best to reduce our energy usage and carbon emissions.

What do you think? Write to Newslink and let the rest of us know!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People should read this.